Operation Better Block is on a mission to conduct 1,000 surveys through the month of November to find out what Homewood residents want to see in their community. To date, with a staff of less than 20, the group has talked to more than 700 people, with just one week left to go.
So far, abandoned homes have climbed to the top of the list of issues. Second in priority has been the problem of crime and violence in the neighborhood.
|COMMUNITY OUTREACH —Khalif Ali interviews Sarah Curry who grew up in Homewood and recently returned to the area.
“Quite frankly we expected that crime and violence would be on the survey. We didn’t expect crime and violence to come in second to doing something with the abandoned houses,” said OBB assistant director Evans Moore. “That was a little bit of a shock.”
Moore, who took the lead in launching the campaign, said responses to the survey cut across all age groups with teenagers having similar concerns as their parents. Many residents were concerned with saving Homewood’s old houses and ensuring other abandoned houses are taken care of so that they are no longer eyesores or centers for criminal activity.
“We have actually interviewed students at Westinghouse. They’ve given some tremendous answers to the questions,” Moore said. “I was shocked because I had a 16-year-old boy tell me his favorite thing about Homewood was the houses. It made me realize these kids really understand the assets of our community.”
Many residents felt safety in Homewood should start with protecting children. Twenty-one percent of the respondents said this could be achieved by providing more recreation centers and another 20 percent wanted more mentoring and guidance.
“This demonstrates people’s desire to see free or more recreation centers and social activities ranging from community involvement to productive socializing, for example, cotillions or social clubs,” Moore said. “Other (answers) ranged from better sidewalks to seeing and getting acquainted with police.”
OBB is a nonprofit organization working to revitalize the Homewood-Brushton community. They run several housing and educational programs and have served the area for more than 40 years.
“We need to build relationships with the community,” Moore said. “The thing about Homewood is there’s a lot going on in Homewood, but the sense of community isn’t as strong as it used to be.”
The surveying process has allowed OBB to reconnect with the community and hopefully it will eventually increase involvement from residents. They hope this campaign will inspire residents to reclaim their neighborhood instead of allowing the city to dictate the direction of development.
“We’ll have a report out to the community in the form of some kind of document and also we’re planning a community forum to take the next step and come up with a series of action steps of what the community would like to see happen,” Moore said. “We’re having these conversations and we really want the residents to participate, not just be reactionary, but put together a plan to work with our government and our stakeholders.”